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Title: The Dream Snake
Author: Robert E. Howard
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0607971.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: October 2006
Date most recently updated: Septembert 2017

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The Dream Snake
Robert E. Howard

The night was strangely still. As we sat upon the wide veranda,
gazing out over the broad, shadowy lawns, the silence of the hour
entered our spirits and for a long while no one spoke.

Then far across the dim mountains that fringed the eastern
skyline, a faint haze began to glow, and presently a great golden moon
came up, making a ghostly radiance over the land and etching boldly
the dark clumps of shadows that were trees. A light breeze came
whispering out of the east, and the unmowed grass swayed before it in
long, sinuous waves, dimly visible in the moonlight; and from among
the group upon the veranda there came a swift gasp, a sharp intake of
breath that caused us all to turn and gaze.

Faming was leaning forward, clutching the arms of his chair, his
face strange and pallid in the spectral light; a thin trickle of blood
seeping from the lip in which he had set his teeth. Amazed, we looked
at him, and suddenly he jerked about with a short, snarling laugh.

"There's no need of gawking at me like a flock of sheep!" he said
irritably and stopped short. We sat bewildered, scarcely knowing what
sort of reply to make, and suddenly he burst out again.

"Now I guess I'd better tell the whole thing or you'll be going
off and putting me down as a lunatic. Don't interrupt me, any of you!
I want to get this thing off my mind. You all know that I'm not a very
imaginative man; but there's a thing, purely a figment of imagination,
that has haunted me since babyhood. A dream!" he fairly cringed back
in his chair as he muttered, "A dream! And God, what a dream! The
first time--no, I can't remember the first time I ever dreamed it--
I've been dreaming the hellish thing ever since I can remember. Now
it's this way: there is a sort of bungalow, set upon a hill in the
midst of wide grasslands--not unlike this estate; but this scene is in
Africa. And I am living there with a sort of servant, a Hindoo. Just
why I am there is never clear to my waking mind, though I am always
aware of the reason in my dreams. As a man of a dream, I remember my
past life (a life which in no way corresponds with my waking life),
but when I am awake my subconscious mind fails to transmit these
impressions. However, I think that I am a fugitive from justice and
the Hindoo is also a fugitive. How the bungalow came to be there I can
never remember, nor do I know in what part of Africa it is, though all
these things are known to my dream self. But the bungalow is a small
one of a very few rooms, and is situated upon the top of the hill, as
I said. There are no other hills about and the grasslands stretch to
the horizon in every direction; knee-high in some places, waist-high
in others.

"Now the dream always opens as I am coming up the hill, just as
the sun is beginning to set. I am carrying a broken rifle and I have
been on a hunting trip; how the rifle was broken, and the full details
of the trip, I clearly remember--dreaming. But never upon waking. It
is just as if a curtain were suddenly raised and a drama began; or
just as if I were suddenly transferred to another man's body and life,
remembering past years of that life, and not cognizant of any other
existence. And that is the hellish part of it! As you know, most of
us, dreaming, are, at the back of our consciousness, aware that we are
dreaming. No matter how horrible the dream may become, we know that it
is a dream, and thus insanity or possible death is staved off. But in
this particular dream, there is no such knowledge. I tell you it is so
vivid, so complete in every detail, that I wonder sometimes if that is
not my real existence and this a dream! But no; for then I should have
been dead years ago.

"As I was saying, I come up the hill and the first thing I am
cognizant of that it is out of the ordinary is a sort of track leading
up the hill in an irregular way; that is, the grass is mashed down as
if something heavy had been dragged over it. But I pay no especial
attention to it, for I am thinking, with some irritation, that the
broken rifle I carry is my only arm and that now I must forego hunting
until I can send for another.

"You see, I remember thoughts and impressions of the dream itself,
of the occurrences of the dream; it is the memories that the dream 'I'
had, of that other dream existence that I can not remember. So, I come
up the hill and enter the bungalow. The doors are open and the Hindoo
is not there. But the main room is in confusion; chairs are broken, a
table is overturned. The Hindoo's dagger is lying upon the floor, but
there is no blood anywhere.

"Now, in my dreams, I never remember the other dreams, as
sometimes one does. Always it is the first dream, the first time. I
always experience the same sensations, in my dreams, with as vivid a
force as the first time I ever dreamed. So, I am not able to
understand this. The Hindoo is gone, but (thus I ruminate, standing in
the center of the disordered room) what did away with him? Had it been
a raiding party of Negroes they would have looted the bungalow and
probably burned it. Had it been a lion, the place would have been
smeared with blood. Then suddenly I remember the track I saw going up
the hill, and a cold hand touches my spine; for instantly the whole
thing is clear: the thing that came up from the grasslands and wrought
havoc in the little bungalow could be naught else except a giant
serpent. And as I think of the size of the spoor, cold sweat beads my
forehead and the broken rifle shakes in my hand.

"Then I rush to the door in a wild panic, my only thought to make
a dash for the coast. But the sun has set and dusk is stealing across
the grasslands. And out there somewhere, lurking in the tall grass is
that grisly thing--that horror. God!" The ejaculation broke from his
lips with such feeling that all of us started, not realizing the
tension we had reached. There was a second's silence, then he

"So I bolt the doors and windows, light the lamp I have and take
my stand in the middle of the room. And I stand like a statue--
waiting--listening. After a while the moon comes up and her haggard
light drifts through the windows. And I stand still in the center of
the room; the night is very still--something like this night; the
breeze occasionally whispers through the grass, and each time I start
and clench my hands until the nails bite into the flesh and the blood
trickles down my wrists--and I stand there and wait and listen but it
does not come that night!" The sentence came suddenly and explosively,
and an involuntary sigh came from the rest; a relaxing of tension.

"I am determined, if I live the night through, to start for the
coast early the next morning, taking my chance out there in the grim
grasslands--with it. But with morning, I dare not. I do not know in
which direction the monster went; and I dare not risk coming upon him
in the open, unarmed as I am. So, as in a maze, I remain at the
bungalow, and ever my eyes turn toward the sun, lurching relentless
down the sky toward the horizon. Ah, God! if I could but halt the sun
in the sky!"

The man was in the clutch of some terrific power; his words fairly
leaped at us.

"Then the sun rocks down the sky and the long gray shadows come
stalking across the grasslands. Dizzy with fear, I have bolted the
doors and windows and lighted the lamp long before the last faint glow
of twilight fades. The light from the windows may attract the monster,
but I dare not stay in the dark. And again I take my stand in the
center of the room--waiting."

There was a shuddersome halt. Then he continued, barely above a
whisper, moistening his lips: "'There is no knowing how long I stand
there. Time has ceased to be and each second is an eon; each minute is
an eternity, stretching into endless eternities. Then, God! but what
is that?" He leaned forward, the moonlight etching his face into such
a mask of horrified listening that each of us shivered and flung a
hasty glance over our shoulders.

"Not the night breeze this time," he whispered. "Something makes
the grasses swish-swish--as if a great, long, plaint weight were being
dragged through them. Above the bungalow it swishes and then ceases--
in front of the door; then the hinges creak--creak! The door begins to
bulge inward--a small bit--then some more!" The man's arms were held
in front of him, as if braced strongly against something, and his
breath came in quick gasps. "And I know I should lean against the door
and hold it shut, but I do not, I can not move. I stand there, like a
sheep waiting to be slaughtered--but the door holds!" Again that sigh
expressive of pent-up feeling.

He drew a shaky hand across his brow. "And all night I stand in
the center of that room, as motionless as an image, except to turn
slowly, as the swish-swish of the grass marks the fiend's course about
the house. Ever I keep my eyes in the direction of the soft, sinister
sound. Sometimes it ceases for an instant, or for several minutes, and
then I stand scarcely breathing, for a horrible obsession has it that
the serpent has in some way made entrance into the bungalow, and I
start and whirl this way and that, frightfully fearful of making a
noise, though I know not why, but ever with the feeling that the thing
is at my back. Then the sounds commence again and I freeze motionless.

"Now here is the only time that my consciousness, which guides my
waking hours, ever in any way pierces the veil of dreams. I am, in the
dream, in no way conscious that it is a dream, but, in a detached sort
of way, my other mind recognizes certain facts and passes them on to
my sleeping--shall I say 'ego'? That is to say, my personality is for
an instant truly dual and separate to an extent, as the right and left
arms are separate, while making up parts in the same entity. My
dreaming mind has no cognizance of my higher mind; for the time being
the other mind is subordinated and the subconscious mind is in full
control, to such an extent that it does not even recognize the
existence of the other. But the conscious mind, now sleeping, is
cognizant of dim thought-waves emanating from the dream mind. I know
that I have not made this entirely clear, but the fact remains that I
know that my mind, conscious and subconscious, is near to ruin. My
obsession of fear, as I stand there in my dream, is that the serpent
will raise itself and peer into the window at me. And I know, in my
dream, that if this occurs I shall go insane. And so vivid is the
impression imparted to my conscious, now sleeping mind that the
thought-waves stir the dim seas of sleep, and somehow I can feel my
sanity rocking as my sanity rocks in my dream. Back and forth it
totters and sways until the motion takes on a physical aspect and I in
my dream am swaying from side to side. Not always is the sensation the
same, but I tell you, if that horror ever raises it terrible shape and
leers at me, if I ever see the fearful thing in my dream, I shall
become stark, wild insane." There was a restless movement among the

"God! but what a prospect!" he muttered. "To be insane and forever
dreaming that same dream, night and day! But there I stand, and
centuries go by, but at last a dim gray light begins to steal through
the windows, the swishing dies away in the distance and presently a
red, haggard sun climbs the eastern sky. Then I turn about and gaze
into a mirror--and my hair has become perfectly white. I stagger to
the door and fling it wide. There is nothing in sight but a wide track
leading away down the hill through the grasslands--in the opposite
direction from that which I would take toward the coast. And with a
shriek of maniacal laughter, I dash down the hill and race across the
grasslands. I race until I drop from exhaustion, then I lie until I
can stagger up and go on.

"All day I keep this up, with superhuman effort, spurred on by the
horror behind me. And ever as I hurl myself forward on weakening legs,
ever as I lie gasping for breath, I watch the sun with a terrible
eagerness. How swiftly the sun travels when a man races it for life! A
losing race it is, as I know when I watch the sun sinking toward the
skyline, and the hills which I had to gain ere sundown seemingly as
far away as ever."

His voice was lowered and instinctively we leaned toward him; he
was gripping the chair arms and the blood was seeping from his lip.

"Then the sun sets and the shadows come and I stagger on and fall
and rise and reel on again. And I laugh, laugh, laugh! Then I cease,
for the moon comes up and throws the grasslands in ghostly and silvery
relief. The light is white across the land, though the moon itself is
like blood. And I look back the way I have come--and far--back"--all
of us leaned farther toward him, our hair a-prickle; his voice came
like a ghostly whisper--"far--back--I--see--the--grass--waving. There
is no breeze, but the tall grass parts and sways in the moonlight, in
a narrow, sinuous line--far away, but nearing every instant." His
voice died away.

Somebody broke the ensuing stillness: "And then--?"

"Then I awake. Never yet have I seen the foul monster. But that is
the dream that haunts me, and from which I have wakened, in my
childhood screaming, in my manhood in cold sweat. At irregular
intervals I dream it, and each time, lately"--he hesitated and then
went on--"each time lately, the thing has been getting closer--
closer--the waving of the grass marks his progress and he nears me
with each dream; and when he reaches me, then--"

He stopped short, then without a word rose abruptly and entered
the house. The rest of us sat silent for awhile, then followed him,
for it was late.

How long I slept I do not know, but I woke suddenly with the
impression that somewhere in the house someone had laughed long, loud
and hideously, as a maniac laughs. Starting up, wondering if I had
been dreaming, I rushed from my room, just as a truly horrible shriek
echoed through the house. The place was now alive with other people
who had been awakened, and all of us rushed to Famings's room, whence
the sounds had seemed to come.

Faming lay dead upon the floor, where it seemed he had fallen in
some terrific struggle. There was no mark upon him, but his face was
terribly distorted; as the face of a man who had been crushed by some
superhuman force--such as some gigantic snake.


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